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Making Sense Of The Pantoum

by Paula Swanson
In order to be able to make sense of the Pantoum form, the Pantoum must make sense.
One must not just set down arbitrary repeating lines that rhyme or not.  The author must pay attention to their first line of thought.  Which, in the Pantoum, is also the last line of thought.  
Let's look at the line scheme of a Pantoum closely.  ABCD, BEDF, EGFH, GIHJ.......up to the last stanza. No mater how long, or how many stanzas your Pantoum has, the Pantoum will always end with repeated line A, as the fourth line and repeated  line C, as the second line, in the last stanza.  So we would end our Pantoum like this example,  ....GIHJ, IkJL, KCLA.  Some Pantoums have as few as three stanzas.  I have seen Pantoums  as long as thirty stanzas.  There may well be even longer ones.
Given the strict line scheme of the Pantoum, punctuation is key.  At least to my way of thinking.  As punctuation is akin to emotion.  A comma used at the end of a  line, can be traded for a question mark, when that line is repeated in the next stanza.  Or a period can become a comma and so on.  Here is an excerpt as an example. 

Our souls entwined, shall endure,
life, fleeting, as a matchstick flame.
Of this bond, I can ensure,
my lips shall whisper thy sweet name.

Life, fleeting as a matchstick flame,
as my grains of time, slip through the glass.
My lips shall whisper thy sweet name,
when comes the last beat of my heart, at last.

As you can see, each stanza holds its own.  By using punctuation, you read the repeated lines as a new stream of thought.  Giving the repeated lines their own life in a new stanza.
A Pantoum is meant to be read aloud.  When writing your Pantoum, take the time to stop after each stanza and read aloud what you have so far.  Listen to the punctuation.  Most importantly, does it make sense?  Do the lines interact with each other.   Do they have something to offer the whole theme?
A really good Pantoum will take the very first line (A) and give it a whole new meaning by the time it becomes your final line in your Pantoum.
The pattern of repeating the second and fourth lines in the previous stanza, as the first and third lines in the next stanza, can be daunting.  But, it needn't be.
Here is a Pantoum writing tip that always works for me.
Choose your theme or idea.  Pick a terrific first line.  One that will also give your Pantoum punch, as your last line.  Then choose your C line to compliment the A line.  
Write a line chart down the left side of your paper.  Assigning each line the correct Pantoum line scheme (abcd, bedf, etc).  Write in your line A, in it's two correct places. Then add in your C line, in its two correct places.  Don't worry about length at this point.  You can add or subtract stanza places as you go. Now, from there, let the mind go. Writing down each repeating line in its proper place. 
You will find yourself changing, editing and tweaking your lines to get them to flow.  To be cohesive.  To make sense when read aloud.
Don't get discouraged.  It can take as little as an hour or as long as several days to complete a Pantoum.
But, the beauty of this poetic form is well worth the effort.

Book: Shattered Sighs